Memo June 2013


A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in June 2013

The 5th among post-communist member states, Lithuania has taken over the presidency of the Council of the European Union presidency after Slovenia (2008), Czech Republic (2009), Hungary and Poland (2011).

Croats have arrived

The selection of data on Croatia shows how their entering affects EU statistical averages. The scariest Croatian figure is the 51.8% unemployment of the young (under 25). An even higher percentage admitted (HR) not having done any collective action in culture in the past twelve months:

Mobilised youth

The above graph is derived from the Eurobarometer survey on the social engagement of European youth, which offers surprises. Supposing they understand questions clearly and answer honestly, young Europeans have become more active democrats in the past couple of years. In the largest countries (DE, UK, FR) more than the EU average, and certainly more than in Eastern Europe. The escalation is considerable: look at the bars for engagement about climate change or human rights:

Cultural organisations, however, have not increased their appeal to youths, the same percentage of the interviewed young people claim to have participated in organised culture as two years earlier. The country pattern shown on the next graph is rather hectic. Cultural activity grew most spectacularly in youth-unemployment-ridden Spain. But it fell sharp in Estonia and Lithuania: does economic consolidation paralyse cultural activeness?

The graph contains another riddle. While several other countries in the region (including newcomer Croatia) cannot cope with the 10% level, what makes young Slovaks flock to cultural organisations in such solid numbers?

Trade and creativity

Negotiations have begun on an EU-US trade agreement. (Don’t ask why not five or ten years ago.) This revives the issue of cultural exception. A convincing majority, 381 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) against 191 voted in May for excluding culture, and more particularly the audiovisuals from the deal. The governments (the Council) were not so determined, nevertheless “audiovisual services are presently not in the mandate”. As always, the French are the staunchest defenders. There are familiar names on the other side, too.

A recent study inspects foreign trade in the creative sector of the European Union. Especially valuable is the full listing of the institutional actors on that stage, both national and international. The authors draw statistics from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Geneva based Unctad. BO followed their suit in the hope of seeing more clearly in the matter.

Next to the US we were curious also about the other world trade superpower, China. Graphs show export in million dollars.

The four lines require no comment, except for some technical explanation. Conventional statistics fail to display the essence of creativity in the economy and manufacturing. Innovation and inventiveness is behind every commodity except for raw materials. (Even in energy, to some extent.) The “creative goods” that represent about 4% in most relationships must not be identified with the true contribution of creativity to economic success. One of the largest categories, “fashion” for example probably simply stands for clothes.

The most sensitive cultural good: cinema films largely escape conventional trade statistics because they do not cross borders in containers. Video (and equivalents) as well as antiques do, which is why they are counted and presented below. Only at antiques is trade over the Atlantic still decisive although Chinese have lately increased their appetite for European pieces.  

And this is not the full picture. Adding Hong Kong Chinese exports would go about 30% higher. Inside this there are commodities where more comes from the city state than from mainland (e.g. printed books). 

One could expect better indicators from export data of creative services but the Unctad statistics are very incomplete in that respect.  

Quality of life

The first topic of the next European Culture Forum (Brussels, 4-6 November) will be the quest for better including culture into the measurement of social and economic progress.

The latest annual report of the European Statistical System (ESS) communicates nine dimensions proposed for quality of life indicators. Culture is not specified in them.

Fewer than nine dimensions are condensed in the picture that illustrates the relevant chapter of the ESS report. In the centre – a book. Photographers know better than statisticians?

You, too, should not forget about culture as you pack for vacation.